• sardonic •
Part of Speech: Adjective
Meaning: Disdainful or playfully derisive, especially in facial or verbal expression, skeptically expressed.
Notes: Many people have asked the good doctor about the relationship between today's Good Word and sarcastic and ironic.
–Sarcasm implies a derision explicitly intended to hurt or offend someone.
–Sardonicism implies a derision with no necessary intent to offend or cause emotional distress.
–Irony comes from an amusingly provocative coincidence of any two seemingly incompatible things, expressed to amuse rather than to offend. The noun from today's word is sardonicism [sahr-dah-nÍ-si-zÍm].
In Play: Sardonic remarks often follow ambiguous statements: "Joe is an unusual wit," said Fred. "That's true," Marge remarked, sardonically implying a different interpretation of unusual. Sarcasm hurts: "Matt Tremony's marriage proposal received a sarcastic, 'Ask me again when you return from the dead' from Phyllis Dean." Irony comes from odd coincidences that seem contradictory: "It's ironic that Harry has to walk to the car lot where he works each morning."
Word History: Sardonic comes from Greek sardanios "scornful." from sardane, the name of a Sardinian plant, Ranunculus Sardous. It goes by the name of the Sardinian crowfoot in English. It is so bitter it makes you grimace when you eat it. Later Greek authors confused this word with sardonios "from Sardo (Sardinia)", which in French became sardonique, a term English could not resist usurping. Sarcasm comes from Greek sarkasmos, from sarkazein "to tear flesh, gnash the teeth, speak bitterly," a verb based on sarx (sarc-s) "flesh", the same root we see in the flesh-eating sarcophagus. (Thanks to William Hupy for starting us thinking about this trio of confusingly similar words.)
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